Plastic antibodies to fight BO

If anti­bod­ies, as is the case, can rec­og­nize path­o­gen­ic agents, should we not be inspired to draw on this and assem­ble syn­thet­ic equiv­a­lents, in the form of poly­mer mol­e­c­u­lar moulds to tar­get the mol­e­cules incrim­i­nat­ed? The so-called MIPs (acronym for mol­e­c­u­lar­ly imprint­ed poly­mers) have been made to trap the mol­e­cules in ques­tion, viz., those involved in pro­duc­ing “BO” polite [and polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect] acronym for ‘body odours’). Fol­low­ing an ini­tial suc­cess in the area of cosmetics1, it would appear that MIPs also have a promis­ing future in bio­med­ical prac­tice where improved med­i­c­i­nal tar­get­ing has become necessary. 

Let us imag­ine we no longer need to ‘plas­ter’ our armpits with deodor­ants which do not respect our skin and its ecosys­tem and that we choose instead to trap the mol­e­cules specif­i­cal­ly respon­si­ble for devel­op­ment of unwel­come ‘BO’? This has been made pos­si­ble through the research work by Karsten Haupt, Pro­fes­sor in nanobiotech­nolo­gies and Head of the UTC-GEC (Enzyme and Cell Engi­neer­ing) Lab. with Bernadette Tse Sum Bui, research engi­neer at the CNRS, in the frame­work of a MIP research part­ner­ship with L’Oréal. Draw­ing on the fac­ul­ty of anti­bod­ies to rec­og­nize cer­tain mol­e­cules, their research teams devel­oped some syn­thet­ic mate­ri­als capa­ble of cap­tur­ing the mol­e­cules in our body tran­spi­ra­tion (sweat) involved in cre­at­ing BO.2

The art of mol­e­c­u­lar imprinting

In essence, these MIPs are bio-inspired and bio-mim­ic mate­ri­als that resem­ble minute plas­tic par­ti­cles less than 1 micron in size. They con­tain small cav­i­ties the shape and chem­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of which cor­re­spond exact­ly to those of the tar­get­ed mol­e­cules. They are obtained via a process called mol­e­c­u­lar imprint­ing, which con­sists of mould­ing the poly­mer round a sin­gle tar­get mol­e­cule that serves as a mol­e­c­u­lar tem­plate. “UTC-GEC has the equip­ment to make the moulds and pro­duce the MIPs”, under­lines Karsten Haupt who adds that “if the process itself is not new, this is the first appli­ca­tion in the cos­met­ics field”. 

Trap­ping offen­sive smells

The research pro­gramme in the part­ner­ship with L’Oréal con­sists of design­ing and pro­duc­ing MIPs that are spe­cial­ized to cap­ture cer­tain “pre­cur­sor” mol­e­cules present in our body tran­spi­ra­tion and respon­si­ble for the pro­duc­tion of ‘BO’. These non-odor­ous mol­e­cules are fed on by bac­te­ria present in the skin – they con­sume the mol­e­cules and then degrade, pro­duc­ing volatile organ­ic acids that do smell. Cap­tur­ing the mol­e­cules upstream is an espe­cial­ly ele­gant process since it does not destroy the bac­te­ria as do cur­rent­ly com­mer­cial­ized deodor­ants. They there­fore do not dis­turb the skin’s ecosys­tem and do not favour devel­op­ment of micro-organ­ism resis­tance fac­tors. The MIPs only have a low impact on the bac­te­ria, sim­ply reduc­ing and lim­it­ing their nat­ur­al food supply. 

“The MIPs we have pro­duced in this L’Oréal part­ner­ship work tar­get one out of three groups of mol­e­cules respon­si­ble for unpleas­ant smelling skins”, under­scores Karsten Haupt, leav­ing the door open to design spe­cif­ic MIPs for each group. A patent3 claim has been reg­is­tered by UTC-GEC for these MIPs, and it is now up to L’Oréal to inte­grate the prod­ucts for the first con­sumer uses in cosmetics. 

Sep­a­rate, cap­ture or deliv­er substances

MIPs have been used since the 1980s in the chem­i­cal indus­tri­al sec­tor to ‘rec­og­nize’ and sep­a­rate var­i­ous forms of a giv­en mol­e­cule, or var­i­ous dif­fer­ent mol­e­cules with sim­i­lar struc­tures. They are pro­duced today by sev­er­al com­pa­nies for use in ana­lyt­i­cal work in the bio­med­ical and agro food sec­tors. Numer­ous appli­ca­tions exis­tent in envi­ron­ment-inten­sive appli­ca­tions to detect and cap­ture unde­sired mol­e­cules, or in the safe­ty sec­tor. UTC-GEC for exam­ple is engaged in a Euro­pean project to design and assem­ble tools to detect arti­san explo­sives and drugs. How­ev­er the main area for appli­ca­tions is the bio­med­ical sec­tor with pos­si­ble out­lets in med­ical imag­ing, such as the use of flu­o­res­cent anti­bod­ies to detect can­cer­ous tumours. In this case, the MIPs are designed on the mod­el of those anti­bod­ies capa­ble of tar­get­ing chem­i­cal struc­ture that are spe­cif­ic to tumor­ous cells. 

In reverse, MIPs can be “loaded” with active sub­stances that can be deliv­ered to var­i­ous organs, for exam­ple to the skin sur­face. Such process­es are being envis­aged for cer­tain treat­ments that call for very pre­cise, accu­rate­ly tar­get­ing to avoid side effects. 

Biore­sources, Bioin­spi­ra­tion and Biomimetics

One of the rea­sons for the ‘pop­u­lar­i­ty’ of MIPs lies in the ease with which they can be manip­u­lat­ed and stored (bet­ter and eas­i­er than anti­bod­ies). They are less sen­si­tive to tem­per­a­ture and more sta­ble, chem­i­cal­ly speak­ing and thus bet­ter adapt­ed for use in “extreme” envi­ron­ments. They also can be pro­duced at less­er costs, and they do not require lab­o­ra­to­ry ani­mals as is the case for pro­duc­tion of anti­bod­ies. As Karsten Haupt sees it “there seems to be a high attached poten­tial to our research and numer­ous appli­ca­tion areas for the prod­ucts”. UTC-GEC will now focus on their pos­si­ble uti­liza­tions as active agents in the bio­med­ical field, based on this inno­v­a­tive appli­ca­tion of MIPs in cos­met­ics. The UTC-GEC Lab is com­mit­ted to sev­er­al nation­al and Euro­pean research prop­jets in “biore­sources, bioin­spi­ra­tion and bio­mimet­ics” and the Lab wish­es to invest more to these aspects in the com­ing research pro­grammes. The con­cept of using an MIP as an active agent offers sci­en­tists an oppor­tu­ni­ty to close­ly study Nature’s mech­a­nisms and process­es so as to be able to mim­ic them and design new mate­ri­als and tools. 


[2] S. Nesto­ra, F. Mer­li­er, S. Beyaz­it, E. Prost, L. Duma, B. Bar­il, A. Greaves, K. Haupt, B. Tse Sum Bui, Plas­tic anti­bod­ies for cos­met­ics: Mol­e­c­u­lar­ly imprint­ed poly­mers scav­enge pre­cur­sors of mal­odors. Ange­wandte Chemie Inter­na­tion­al Edi­tion, 2016, 55, 6252–6256.

[3] A. Greaves, F. Man­fre, K. Haupt, B. Tse Sum Bui, WO 2014/102077 A1, 2014. 


Plas­tic anti­bod­ies for cos­met­ics: Mol­e­c­u­lar­ly imprint­ed poly­mers scav­enge pre­cur­sors of malodors. 

S. Nesto­ra, F. Mer­li­er, S. Beyaz­it, E. Prost, L. Duma, B. Bar­il, A. Greaves, K. Haupt, B. Tse Sum Bui. Ange­wandte Chemie Inter­na­tion­al Edi­tion, 2016, 55, 6252–6256.


A. Greaves, F. Man­fre, K. Haupt, B. Tse Sum Bui, Brevet L’OREAL WO 2014/102077 A1, 2014

Le magazine

Avril 2024 - N°62

Faire face aux enjeux environnementaux

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